The guilty verdict applied to the Metropolitan Police Service in relation to Health and Safety breaches over the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes completes a necessary circle of action and accountability.
Following a decision that no individual would face charges over the shooting, the Met was presented with an organizational charge over ‘operational errors’ in relation to the shooting.
As much as public confidence in the Met may be damaged by the entire affair and this verdict, clearing the organization would have been greeted with deep cynicism, if not incredulity, by the public. The most appropriate basis upon which the Met can continue to discharge its responsibilities is within a legislative framework that permits extraordinary action and requires full accountability for that action.
The fine applied, of £175,000 plus costs, is reasonable in so far as it makes little sense to transfer large sums from one public body to another. It is not, in such cases, intended to be a reflection of the wrong determined to have been done. A larger fine would provide no effective incentive for the Met to modify its behaviour and would ultimately be reflected in the level of service provided to the public.
An addendum to the verdict by the jury specifically observed that no particular culpability was found on the part of Cressida Dick, Gold Commander during the operation. While irregular, as no individual was on trial, this will serve to avoid any further media pressure on the now Deputy Assistant Commissioner. The addendum served to ensure that the verdict could in no way be interpreted as personal criticism of Dick. This is appropriate for the case in hand.
However, a number of IPCC-identified failures in the command and coordination of the operation are effectively laid at her door. Specifically, these are the failure to ensure and verify that instructions were carried out and the lack of any plan on how to proceed where uncertainty over identification existed. The reason no specific charges were made against Dick is that these failings were interpreted as procedural, planning and coordination failures and, as such, collective organizational failures.
It is the future of Commissioner Ian Blair that is in more doubt in light of the trial and following ongoing questions about his leadership. As head of the Met, he bears ultimate responsibility for organizational culpability in this verdict. The Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and some members of the Metropolitan Police Authority have already called for his resignation. The Home Secretary and Prime Minister have offered full confidence in the outcome of the trial and Ian Blair’s position; however, they clearly had no option but to offer that support without implying the opposite.
If it indeed becomes clear that it was Ian Blair himself who insisted on fighting the case against the Met then this will make his position extremely difficult. His acknowledged error in preventing the IPCC from beginning their investigation is significant. The frustration felt by the IPCC over this is made clear in the report itself and the statements thereon. The further controversy over the representation of Menezes by the Defence and the IPCC’s observation of collective falsification of logs and accounts warrants further investigation and possible action.
The Commissioner continues to justify the Met’s fighting of this case on the basis that the use of Health and Safety legislation for prosecution is inappropriate and ultimately damaging to the service. Yet he accepts all of the concerns raised by the IPCC, which were also the basis of the prosecution’s case. In such a high profile, tragic and error-laden operation such as this it should be clear to him that full and public accountability is necessary for the Met to continue to discharge its duties with the confidence of the public. Indeed, that 15 individuals were found to be potentially criminally culpable but not charged should show that prosecution relating to public safety breaches was the very best that the Met could have hoped for.
Head of Terrorism and International Homeland Security
November 6, 2007
The views of the author are not meant to represent the views of RUSI.